Twenty years ago, I was a poet. Longer ago than that even.
I began writing poetry in high school, as a teenager, took the gift of the Writers Market book for poetry my parents gave me each year and sent my words out. Sometimes, people even published them. And when I got on the Internet in 1990, and then joined a BBS which will not be named, I wrote my words there too.
I didn’t just write them. I used them. When I was in pain. When I was angry. When I was wrathful. When I had desire I did not know how to meet the consequences of; when lovers ignored me; when the politics of friendship confused me; when the cruelties of the Internet made me certain I was supposed to stop talking and just didn’t know how, I wrote and wrote and wrote.
Some more things got published. Some more things got rejected. I won some contests, performed at some poetry slams, got email from people I didn’t know: the father who shared one of my poems with his son after a first heartbreak; the man who worked at NASA and sent me pictures of the sky.
Eventually, the BBS died. And eventually, I stopped writing, not just poetry, but everything. It was easier; boys were more willing to date me; I could pretend I was normal, and there was a lot of lucrative to be had in the office drag dot.com glory of the late ’90s.
Eventually, though, I got back to words, or admitted, more readily, that I had never left them. The boys were gone anyway. So were the dot.coms, and the century, and the World Trade Center.
But while I came back to fiction and non-fiction, I never really came back to poetry. I published something in Rattle on accident because of a friend, and I envisioned a poetry project or two I never felt able to execute on.
My brain has changed, and, by-and-large, it’s not something that really bothers me. I’ve enough to do, as arguably evidenced by my complete inability to keep up with NaBloWriMo this nearly over month.
But in April of this year almost gone, an old friend from those days of being the girl who posted poetry on the Internet, found a stack of print outs from that BBS of my work. She asked me if I wanted them, and I said, why not?
Until today, I hadn’t opened the envelope.
Some of the work I remember. Some of it I don’t. Much of what I’ve allowed myself to read has made me cringe. In many cases, I am more interested by the evolution of my signature files on the pages as my sign-off migrate from Sinead O’Connor (“there is no other troy for me to burn”) to Kristen Hersh (“’til i wake your ghost”) to U2 (“i must be an acrobat, to look like this and act like that”) to things I no longer even know the source of without Googling (“you knew how easily i bruised; it’s a soreness i would never lose”). Apparently that last one is Erica Jong.
It’s a weird stack of paper. A hard read. I don’t know if it tells me I was the poet I remember, that my resume says I was; or if I really wasn’t. So few of these things would I say now, or say this way.
But there was one thing I did, a lot, when I was sad, and that was to write on this BBS, in the third person, about Little girl (“Little girl got to be pretty for a year…. Little girl has long legs. Little girl has useful hands”). These were not poems, they were not meant as art. They were pain and wrath and a desperate attempt to explain my feeling of being an object and to deflect — through a demonstration of my grief and otherness — cruelty that these posts, frankly, only invited.
I thought they were lost forever. They might well have been, if not for my friend’s printouts and her offer to send them to me. I’m grateful to have them now, to see the record, not of the writer I was, but of the girl I was at an age when I was discovering how the things I made people feel made them see themselves and the way I allowed myself to carry, or not carry, the consequences of that.
All of this really happened. I was a writer, in that I wrote words that sometimes meant something to someone, often not in ways I intended. And I suppose, I am one now, essentially in the same way. But, wow, those two things aren’t really joined in time or subject or style or narrative technology.
There isn’t really a lesson in this, for me or for you. It’s just 50 pages of words I don’t know if I’ll ever share with anyone ever again. But once I did.
If anyone ever offers you an envelope from your past, say yes, I think. Open it eventually. Recognize that even when you were silent, you were always speaking.
The title of this entry is the opening of the note my friend enclosed with the printouts.